I see you sat in the other chair and I feel your pain. I know how much it took for you to come here today and how difficult it was to get to the point of asking for help. This therapy is not for your professional development; it does not form part of your training. This moment feels like make or break. But the thing that could break is you.
I wonder if there was a time that you had thought about trying to find a private therapist. Someone away from the day job, where it could remain a secret. But then everything became too much and you knew you needed more. A whole team. The safety net of many heads to think about you and your needs.
Whilst you have always said that there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’ when it comes to mental health, maybe you always hoped that you were strong enough to survive most things. You have the knowledge and the skills. You know the theory and the practice. So why would you need the help when you really should be able to help yourself?
Yet life doesn’t work this way.
Sitting in the waiting room was probably confusing. Being the one sat patiently awaiting the psychologist, knowing, whilst also not knowing, what to expect. The fear that someone there might ask who you are waiting to see, or even worse, who you are. Because in that moment, do you even know?
You wonder if you will bump into someone you know because the world of psychology is so small. You wonder what you will say. You hope that they would be understanding and compassionate. You hope that you would be too. This just isn’t something we cover in training is it?
Do you worry about being judged? Judged as a person, as a professional or as a mother? I know I did. Not because of anything that anyone else did or said, but because of my own internal dialogue. Because on top of the weight of trauma, loss and emotional suffering, we carry an additional sense of responsibility to know what to do. To somehow make ourselves better. To carry the sole responsibility of building resilience.
I hope you can allow yourself to cry, to be vulnerable and to allow your thoughts and fears to be held. I hope that you can learn to trust and to really allow yourself to feel. To open the floodgates and to let it all out. Or maybe let it all in?
I’m pretty sure that there will be things that will surprise you being in the other chair. Things that you took for granted when you were the one sat opposite. You suddenly really see the importance of having an abundance of tissues to hand, of having a regular and consistent time and space. You may feel awkward at the start and end of sessions, not knowing if you should switch into peer mode – do you talk about the challenges of working in the NHS and find some common ground? Or is that stepping over a boundary?
I wonder if you have questioned whether therapy can even work; whether something you have trained in and facilitated so passionately for so long really does do what you had always believed. Yes, there is an evidence base for certain approaches, but will it work for me or for you? Can it really make us ‘better’ (whatever that really means)?
Or maybe, like me, you will learn that this is a process. That it isn’t as simple as being fixed and ‘back to normal’. Because in reality what is normal when your life has been turned on its head and you have lost something – someone– that can never be replaced. Suddenly, the terms of ‘acceptance’ and ‘living alongside your pain’ take on a new meaning. And whilst you may also want a quick fix and for someone to tell you that you definitely will feel better, you may also realise that this can take time. And that the path towards this may not be a smooth one.
I’m not sure I trusted that I could ever feel like me again, but I wonder if this is because I didn’t even really accept or realise that I was suffering. I had come to believe that this was just life and how things were going to be from here on, so in that respect, how could I know that things could be different? But they are. It’s just not the same as before, but that really is okay.
I hope that you know that this will change you as a psychologist. It will give you an understanding and degree of empathy that no book can teach. You will change aspects of your practice and you will have a new-found respect for the bravery that clients show when they allow themselves to be vulnerable. When they come back again each week in the hope that what you are doing together can help.
Dear psychologist, I want you to know that you are brave and that you are strong for showing up and saying ‘me too’. And one day, I hope you believe this too.